OSWEGO, NY – This time, it was just a drill. However, it is training that allows Oswego Hospital and its partners the experience to handle any sort of real-life emergency.
“It is well documented that a large percentage of victims involved in a chemical incident will self-report to a hospital. Being able to provide essential decontamination prior to their entry into the community hospital is a must for continued hospital operations,” according to Paul Vandish, Oswego Health director of quality and risk management, and a member of the hospital’s Decon Team. “Exercises like this require extensive pre-planning and coordination. However, the time spent upfront with plan design and actual testing of our plan make us that much more efficient and effective should a real event occur requiring our response.”
The annual drills are a learning opportunity for hospital staff to examine the unique aspects of responding to potential intentional and non-intentional chemical incidents “and to make improvements to our plans as needed,” he added.
Friday’s exercise focused primarily on the hospital’s ability to effectively respond to incidents that involve large numbers of contaminated patients self-reporting to the hospital.
An actual event may involve either an intentional or non-intentional release of a chemical substance in the community that results in many individuals being exposed, Vandish explained.
If someone were to walk into the lobby (or Emergency Department) complaining of being exposed to unknown chemicals, “We’d lock down the place immediately,” Vandish told Oswego County Today. “It takes us about 20 minutes to set up the portable decontamination shelter. That’s why we do these drills – we want to get better, faster. The training helps us understand what needs to be done in certain situations.”
This year’s fictitious scenario involved several students that were attending an outdoor concert near West First Street in Oswego. A truck driver transporting 55-gallon drums of a hazardous chemical was traveling west on Bridge Street.
According to the mock incident, he suddenly lost control of the truck, skidded and overturned at the southwest corner of West First and Bridge streets. The integrity of the drums is compromised and the liquid contents were dispersed on numerous individuals attending the concert.
Although no apparent physical injuries are noted, several of the concert-goers began experiencing symptoms that included coughing, wheezing, nausea, vomiting, irritation (nose, throat, airways) dizziness, weakness and headache.
Rather than wait for emergency services personnel to respond to the scene, the frightened, anxious and sickened teens decide to immediately report directly to the hospital.
The hospital’s planned response included activating the trained Decon Team dressed with appropriate protective suits, installing a portable decontamination shelter and effectively processing victims through the decontamination process.
Staff members from the Oswego County Health Department are also participating in the response efforts.
The more than 60 “victims” were members of the Oswego County BOCES’ New Vision class.
Suzie Hillenbrand of Pulaski High School said, “This was very realistic and kind of scary. They’re all dressed up (in the haz-mat suits).”
Brittanie Edick, also of Pulaski, agreed. “Everyone treated this as if it was the real thing. It was very realistic. The training helps everyone to know what to do if this really happens sometime.”
Kelsey Prye, also of Pulaski, said she was glad to have the opportunity to take part in the drill.
“It is important for them to train for a situation like this. You never know when it might happen,” she said. “It is kind of scary to see all these people dressed up like this. It’s something you don’t see all the time. This drill helps teach everyone what is going on and how to deal with it.”
“It was fun and helpful. I really enjoyed being part of the drill,” said Stephen Richmond of Oswego High School. “It was like going through a real decontamination process. I think it’s important that the hospital does this. I’m glad I was part of it.”
“This is something that a lot of people don’t get to do,” agreed Prye. “It was definitely crazy, we didn’t even know what we were getting into until we got briefed this morning. It was very realistic and everyone took it very seriously.”
The drill was to be observed and evaluated by representatives from the New York State Department of Health, the Oswego County Fire Coordinators Office, Oswego County Emergency Management Office, Upstate Regional Resource Center and members of the Oswego City Fire Department.
As part of the exercise, Oswego Hospital’s response to the incident will be examined and evaluators will offer comments.
Vandish said it is important for the hospital to be able to respond to all sorts of emergency events.
“We can’t always rely on having outside assistance. These drills are a learning experience for all involved,” he told Oswego County Today. “As we’ve seen from various events across our nation, all kinds of events have occurred. We need to be prepared for worst case scenarios.”
“We’ve learned a lot over the years from these drills. Every year we have new teams. New people are getting the training, the experience they need to handle these types of events,” he continued. “We want them to learn the basics of decontamination so that it is second nature to them. We have learned a lot but there are still some things we want to do in the future. Exercises like this require extensive pre-planning and coordination. The time spent up front with plan design and actual testing of our plan make us that much more efficient and effective should a real event occur requiring our response.”
An “after action” report and improvement plan with recommendations will be prepared for future training, equipment and response procedures.